Who will say something nice about Robert Novak? What the hell -- I will.

Novak used an obscenity on CNN while debating James Carville. It came as a surprise to me because I have never heard him use an obscenity, except when talking about liberals, left-wingers and Democrats.

I have known Bob for 30 years. My office was across the hall from Novak and Rowland Evans; they wrote the "Inside Report" column together.

When you have an office so close to another columnist, you connect. My favorite Novak story took place when he came into my office with a Band-Aid tin can that someone had left for him.

"It could be a bomb," I said.

Novak replied, "That's what I think. That's why I brought it in here. I didn't want to make a mess in my office."

I was the one who used the obscenity. Even in those days Novak had people who didn't like what he wrote, so we called the bomb squad. They arrived with a dog.

I said to the police, "Don't let the dog sniff Novak's trash can. He writes a lot of bombs for his column."

Finally they opened the tin can and it was full of pennies, sent to him by a disgruntled reader.

What made Novak such a successful reporter was that he had more sources than any columnist in Washington. If you wanted to do in an opponent, you leaked to Bob. He received so many leaks he had to have a sump pump in his office.

Novak received most of his leaks from the right. We now know Karl Rove has been one of his main sources in the White House. Whenever you saw Rove's name in the column, you had to read between the lines for something that he leaked to Novak.

While Bob was either loved or hated, his fame reached its zenith when writing about Ambassador Joe Wilson. In his column Novak revealed the name of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, who happened to work for the CIA -- undercover or above cover.

The difference is important. If she was still undercover, someone violated the law by leaking her name.

To find out, the Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor to investigate if the law was violated and who was responsible for the leak.

Now here is where it gets complicated. Nobody knows what Novak told the grand jury concerning his leak, but Judy Miller, the New York Times reporter, is in jail because she refused to name her source, even if she never wrote about Valerie Plame. (If anyone should be permitted to use an obscenity, it's Judy.)

Bob is being tormented by his colleagues. Some say his fuse is shorter than ever, and that is why he used an obscenity on television.

It hurt everyone to see Novak lose his temper.

And that's no bull.

(c)2005, Tribune Media Services